The Eerie Silence of Chernobyl

Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
Trip End Dec 16, 2012

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Flag of Ukraine  , Kyyivs'ka Oblast',
Monday, March 11, 2013

This is a story of a small city. A city once bustling with young families. A city now home to a lone crow. This is a story about two adventure travellers who went off to explore an abandoned city due to the world's largest nuclear disaster. This is a story of the evacuation of 90 villages, and the dramatic city left over after the disaster. This is the story of the eerie silence of Chernobyl.

Once upon a time, it was the year 1970 in the thriving years of the USSR, and the city of Pripyet was born. A modern city for its time, Pripyet had it all, soviet style apartments to house a large population of people, restaurants, a cultural centre, schools, a football stadium, and an indoor pool complex. Over the years, this small city was expanding due to the workers of the nearby nuclear power plant of Chernobyl. In the year 1986, Pripyet was growing, and with a population of 50,000 people, it was time to build an amusement park for this city of young families.

Many years into the future, two adventure travellers joined a small tour group in Kiev, Ukraine. This tour would take these curious travellers, Shaun and Karen Ironmonger, to the Chernobyl zone, a place steeped in a tragic history, in fact the place of the world’s largest nuclear disaster. But it was here that after all the information, the images, the memorials of this disaster, that in the abandoned city of Pripyet, we experienced the eerie silence of Chernobyl.

The year was 1986, the day was the 26th April, a nice spring day in the USSR. It was that day that the lives of many would be changed forever, the world would be changed, and that small city of Pripyet would go from a thriving young family based community, to an abandoned city. Home to a lone crow, and the eerie silence of Chernobyl.

On the 26th April 1986, 3km away from Pripyet, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced the world’s worst nuclear disaster. The number four unit exploded, releasing toxic nuclear waste into the atmosphere, contaminating over 90 surrounding villages. This changed the world forever.

It wasn’t until the 28th April 1986, that residents of Pripyet and the 90 surrounding villages were informed of this massive disaster. At this moment, the lives of the people in the villages and the city of Pripyet changed forever, but sadly, thousands of lives would be lost. The government ordered the evacuation of over 130,000 people within a 30 km radius. Within a week, Pripyet would go from a city of 50,000 people, to the home of a lone crow.

On a snowy spring day in March 2013, a small group of three tourists and a guide entered the 30km exclusion zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. We were two of the curious tourists, intrigued by the world’s biggest nuclear disaster. As we drove around Chernobyl and surrounding villages, we visited memorials dedicated to the 100,000 people who died as a result of the disaster. And soon we would experience the eerie silence in the city of Pripyet. But first we would drive to the nuclear power plant, where we would see with our own eyes, the nuclear power unit that exploded all those years ago, causing the end of so many lives, and the end of Pripyet.

In the days after the nuclear power plant disaster, sheer panic spread through the city of Pripyet. For its residents, there was no choice but to take a couple of bags of valuables and run. There was no time to pack up their soviet apartments, there was no time for the shops and cultural centre to close up, there was no time for the teachers at the school to gather all there resources. Evacuation could have been the difference between life or death, yet so many would come to terms with death in the near future.

Yes, there was no time to gain a clear head on the fact that the residents of Pripyet would have to leave their beloved city, their homes, the playgrounds their children played in every day, and the amusement park that was due to open any day now. But unfortunately, there was time for the sick hearted people. There was time for the cruel people who were more concerned about looting the valuables from the shops, schools, and apartments of the city of Pripyet. When the looters got what they wanted, they left, and Pripyet became the future home to a lone crow. It became a place to experience the eerie silence of Chernobyl.

Fast forward to the year 2013. We were overwhelmed by the facts and figures associated with the 1986 nuclear disaster. When we visited a kindergarten in the 10km Chernobyl radius, figures became a reality. Using a geigercounter (radiation meter), we came face to face with a radioactive tree that registered a 10.3, with 0.3 being a safe level of radiation. Yes, the impact of this disaster lived on. As we tip toed through the abandoned kindergarten building, the eerie silence of Chernobyl began. The place was trashed, like a war zone. Yet you could make out the dissembled furniture and decapitated dolls that acted as evidence that this place use to be a functioning kindergarten, a place where young children were safe, in a learning environment. Yes they were safe until that day in 1986. And now, there is no one left here, just a tragic mess, and the eerie silence of Chernobyl.

It was at the home of a lone crow though,that we would really experience the eerie silence of Chernobyl. We entered the abandoned city of Pripyet, the city that was home to 50,000 people, thriving in a community with over 10,000 workers from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Yet as we entered Pripyet, there was no one. And from that moment the real eeriness came alive.

Along with our fellow tour group member and our guide, we traced the footsteps of those who once lived in this modern soviet city of Pripyet. We visited the central supermarket where we could see trolleys, and signs for different products, but the aisles and checkouts were non-existent. It was clearly just a large space of rubble. Next we strolled through the community centre, with peeling paintwork, a dusty trashed cinema, and crumbling sport halls.

As we continued through the streets of this forgotten city, the snow lightly fell, the wind was still, and a lone crow was calling, as we experienced the eerie silence of Chernobyl. The lack of life became very obvious as we approached the rusty, unused amusement park. The amusement park was built to bring years of entertainment to the people of Pripyet, but this poor little amusement park never got to be used, not even once, as the nuclear disaster brought a premature end to its existence. Today the rusting ferris wheel, the collapsing chair swing, and the transforming dodgem cars are simply a reminder of the 1986 disaster, an end to life in Pripyet, and the whole Chernobyl zone.

Strolling in the snow down the streets of the abandoned Pripyet, a rush of eeriness would stream through to our bones and send chills into our body, causing goose bumps on our skin. The eerie silence of Chernobyl had got to us, as we struggled to comprehend what it would have been like in 1986 before the disaster, and how it would have been, to be told to evacuate your homes forever, and how tragic it would have been to eventually die of radiation positioning. This was like a horror film, a ghost town, but indeed it was reality.

As we walked amongst the small trees that were situated in the once clear football field, surrealism struck us. And as we entered the indoor swimming complex, the reality hit even harder when we had to dodge broken glass, and climb the crumbling stairs to enter the massive room of the empty swimming pool fitted with diving boards. This was like a war zone, a nightmare, a terrible accident, but a reality for Pripyet.

But finally the eerie chills got a little too much. As we walked through the large building of the local school, we were shocked. Entering the cafeteria, we were confronted with hundreds of gas masks thrown on the ground, tables turned upside down, a place in disrepair. To think, this was the place where children would get their lunch, talk and play with their friends, and the teachers would watch over them, wishing for the day to go faster. But we were, in a time warp, in a war zone, in a horror film. And why, because a nuclear power unit exploded in 1986.

Each classroom was the same. Trashed, tables upside down, crumbling paint on the walls, and yet all had reminders of what was before the disaster. Soviet reminders were everywhere, from Cyrillic writing, to the Lenin room, to war propaganda posters. But what really got underneath our skin was the noticeboard where a newspaper article was pinned. That newspaper article was dated 23rd April, 1986, three days before the disaster, three days before life for Pripyet would cease to exist.

As we walked down the streets of Pripyet for the last time, through the snow we trudged to the eerie silence of Chernobyl. As we pondered on our Chernobyl experience, we thought about all those people who lost their lives, and why, because they were living within a 30km radius of a nuclear power plant. As for Pripyet and the lone crow, what will happen now? Will the government finally demolish this abandoned city, or will it be left how it is, an eerie reminder of the terrible nuclear disaster on the 26th April, 1986.

To end this story, we would like to inform you that we got tested on a radiation monitor when we left the Chernobyl zone, and we registered clear of radiation. But the eerie effects of our experience in Chernobyl still haunt us today. It was a very interesting tour, but a real reminder of that horrible disaster, and the feeling of the eerie silence of Chernobyl will remain, along with the lone crow in the abandoned city of Pripyet.
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